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The sheets of noise, distortion and feedback on Mercury Rev's debut might startle those only used to their softer work a decade later. But aside from the noise-rock elements and David Baker's snarling vocals, "Yerself is Steam" has plenty to suggest the seeds of insane genius, throwing together elements of Pixies-style alternative, psychedelia and 1980s goth without inhibition. Early Rev is unjustly forgotten, compared to the likes of Nirvana which dominated the rock landscape at the time.
To start with, it sounds at if it is going to suffer in comparison to its more focused follow-up "Boces". If you've already heard "Meth Of A Rockette's Kick", then the grand fuzzed-up swells of "Chasing a Bee" seem far less powerful. But "Syringe Mouth" really starts things moving. The riff really does give this to-the-point track a punchy hard-rock fuel, despite it being almost identical to the one from that cheese-dance classic, 2 Unlimited's "No Limits".
For the most part, "Yerself is Steam" isn't about indie tautness, so much as sprawling, spacious atmospheres. After first hearing the album's extended conclusion "Very Sleepy Rivers", one word resounded in my mind. Goth. Goth, goth, gothity goth. It's a surprise and a focused performance, but twelve minutes is too long to devote to what's really a pastiche. They won't convince me that they've never heard any Sisters of Mercy or Fields of the Nephilim! A more individual glimpse of the darkness of their souls, or whatever, is seen on "Blue and Black". There's a bit of a Joy Division thing going on here, not just in the gruff, hammed-up vocals but in its ruminating bassline and hissing cymbals.
Their most ear-grabbing moment comes on "A Sweet Odysee" where they suddenly double the speed with a muffled tom-tom patter and dark sheets of distortion, still firmly in the gothic idiom. Godspeed You Black Emperor would come to refine and tidy up this doomy style of instrumental rock a few years later. "Frittering", despite not seeming to develop very much, fills its almost nine minutes confidently with an air of detached psychedelic rock, like some Neil Young epic.
This lineup of Mercury Rev would come to produce more concise and bogglingly inventive stuff on "Boces", but their debut is still worth picking up for its searingly confident rendition of an unusual stylistic mix.
September 13, 2005